Last week’s odd news: GM memo reveals banned words – DesMoinesRegister.com
DETROIT – What do the words “safety,” “chaotic” and “problem” have in common?
They’re all on General Motors’ list of banned words for employees who were documenting potential safety issues.
The revelation of the 68-word list is one of the odder twists in GM’s ongoing recall of 2.6 million older-model small cars for defective ignition switches.
On May 16, the U.S. government slapped GM with a $35 million fine for failing to report the deadly defect for more than a decade. The government also released a 2008 GM training document that includes the list and warns employees to stick to the facts and not use language that could hurt the company down the road.
The word “defect,” for example, “can be regarded as a legal admission” and should be avoided, the company document says.
Adjectives such as “bad,” “terrifying,” “dangerous,” “horrific” and “evil” are on the list. So are unflattering terms such as “deathtrap,” “widow-maker” and “Hindenburg.” Even seemingly benign words such as “always” and “never” made it on the list.
From there, it veers into the extraordinary. “Kevorkianesque” — as in the late assisted-suicide activist Jack Kevorkian — and “Corvair-like” — a reference to the GM car once called “unsafe at any speed” by Ralph Nader — are on it; so are “apocalyptic,” “grisly” and “rolling sarcophagus.” Phrases such as “unbelievable engineering screw-up” and “potentially disfiguring” were also discouraged.
GM said flowery language simply wasn’t helpful in getting to the root of a problem. Saying “This is a lawsuit waiting to happen,” for example, isn’t as useful as saying, “Windshield wipers did not work properly.” But it also warned that language could be misinterpreted later by someone outside the company.
David Friedman, the acting chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Friday that the materials were part of a larger problem at GM, where engineers were reluctant to send documents with words like “defect” up the chain of command.
“The fact that GM took so long to report this defect says there was something very wrong with the company’s values,” he said.
GM said now, employees are now encouraged to discuss safety issues.
“We encourage employees to be factual in their statements and will continue to work with NHTSA to improve our safety processes,” the company said in a statement.
Woman finds 12-foot python in bathroom
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – A 12-foot python has been returned to its owner after a slithery stop at a Central Texas home where a woman earlier bathed her pet guinea pigs.
The Eagle newspaper reported May 13 that Veronica Rodriguez was shocked in early May when the big snake turned up in her bathroom.
Police believe the African python slipped into the house when Rodriguez left the back door open after bathing her three household guinea pigs and putting the critters in outdoor pens.
Rodriguez says she heard strange noises, returned to the bathroom and discovered the snake crawling into the tub. She called 911.
Police and animal control officers removed the snake, using a city trash can as a temporary receptacle for the reptile.
No guinea pigs or people were harmed.
Police: Man drives drunk to station to make report
BATON ROUGE, La. – A 31-year-old man was arrested after he drove to a Louisiana state police headquarters while drunk to file an accident report, police say.
Online booking records indicate Patrick Ruffner of Gonzales was in the East Baton Rouge Parish jail May 12 with bond set at $1,000.
Ruffner called state police May 10, saying his vehicle was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge, trooper Jared Sandifer says. He was told to come to Troop A’s offices to fill out a crash report.
Sandifer says that when Ruffner got out of his SUV, a trooper smelled alcohol and gave him field sobriety and breath tests.
Sandifer says Ruffner was booked with driving on a suspended license and with first-offense driving while intoxicated.
Spam Museum to move to downtown Austin
AUSTIN, Minn. – The museum dedicated to the canned meat product Spam is moving to downtown Austin.
Hormel Foods Corp. officials said May 13 that Austin’s biggest tourism attraction will move from its spot near the corporate headquarters in Austin to the downtown area. The Austin Daily Herald reports city leaders lauded the future move as the museum regularly draws tens of thousands of visitors each year and it could have a large economic impact for nearby businesses.
Hormel will likely begin construction late by early January. If all goes well, the new Spam Museum will open in spring 2016 in time for Hormel’s 125th anniversary.
Man says he broke into neighbor’s home for eggs
MIDDLETOWN, Pa. – A southeastern Pennsylvania man charged with breaking into a neighbor’s house says he was only borrowing eggs to make breakfast.
The Bucks County Courier Times says Middletown police contend Christopher King didn’t have an omelette on his mind when he climbed through the window early May 13.
Police who responded to the report of a burglary in progress say they arrived to find him walking out the front door. They say they found dresser and cabinet drawers and doors open throughout the house.
Detective Patrick Nicastro says King claimed he climbed through his neighbor’s window because he wanted some eggs for breakfast.
The homeowner told police nothing appeared to be missing.
King was charged with felony burglary and related charges.
Bald eagle that hit boat on I-94 set free
MENOMONIE, Wis. – A bald eagle that was injured when it flew into a shrink-wrapped boat moving at 70 mph on Interstate 94 in western Wisconsin was set free May 14.
“He was very strong when I was holding him, you could just feel the strength in his talons and his wings,” Scott Kregness said after releasing the bird at a Menomonie park on Wednesday morning. He and his wife, Marilyn, were in the truck towing the boat when the bird hit April 25.
“What a feeling when he actually jumped out of your hand and watching him fly away,” Kregness said.
At first, Kregness said they looked in the rearview mirror and saw a hole but they thought the bird bounced off. But then another driver alerted them and they pulled into a rest area near Menomonie, where they found the adult male upright and angry inside.
The eagle was taken to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul for rehabilitation, after an eye hemorrhage and internal injuries.
Patti Stangel, founder of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release Inc. in Colfax, had taken care of the bird before transferring him to the Raptor Center and helped organize the release Wednesday, about 1½ miles from where the bird hit the boat.
“When he flew off he knew this area,” she said. “He’s back home, and he knows it.”
Kregness said the bird seemed to give them a “show” by flying overhead after he was released.
“What a great feeling,” Kregness said. “What a majestic bird, I can’t describe the feeling. It almost gives you goose bumps.”
View from London hotel can surprise guests
LONDON – The new hotel at one of London’s skyscrapers offers rooms with a view — but it isn’t always what guests expect.
The Shangri-La Hotel — located on the upper floors of The Shard — has a design quirk that means glass panels protruding from the skyscraper can act as mirrors once internal lights are switched on at night. That means that in some rooms, it is possible to get a glimpse of neighboring guests.
Darren Gearing, the executive vice president and hotel general manager, says in a statement Saturday that blinds are available for privacy. Guests will be advised when they check in.
The Renzo Piano-designed 72-story building is unique in that it features entire walls that are windows. The hotel in the 1,017-foot tower opened recently.
Danes scrap controversial promotional video
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Sex. Violence. Elections.
Officials in Denmark have retracted a controversial animated cartoon that was intended to inspire young people to vote in upcoming elections for the European Parliament.
The 90-second video featured a mustachioed, muscular man aggressively interrupting a couple having sex and punching people into a polling station. It was posted late May 12 on the Danish Parliament’s social media sites.
Parliament Speaker Mogens Lykketoft said Tuesday that the 179-seat Folketing should in future “be more careful with what we put our name to.” Lawmakers were cited by Danish media as saying it was done without their knowledge.
Voting for the 751-seat European Parliament takes place in each of the European Union’s 28 member states, stretching over four days, beginning May 22.
Glitch leads to double tax refunds
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A computer glitch is responsible for 73 Grand Rapids residents getting two income tax refund checks from the city instead of one, officials say.
WOOD-TV reports one of the 73 people came forward to alert the city.
City Manager Greg Sundstrom says it’s not known what caused an April 27 computer problem that led to double checks being mailed, but officials are making sure it won’t happen again. The TV station reports checks averaged $20 for a total of about $1,500.
Sundstrom says any of the “lucky 73” who got double refunds may contact the city income tax office to mail back checks or drop them off. As for the error being reported by one of them, Sundstrom says: “Honesty is still a strong trait here in Grand Rapids.”
Fowl rush-hour: Police herd goslings off N.Y. road
PLAINVIEW, N.Y. – Some Long Island Expressway drivers may be grousing about geese when they discuss their morning rush-hour delays.
Newsday says a car-pool lane in Plainview was closed for 15 minutes May 12 as police herded several baby geese to safety.
They got the goslings into a large cardboard box next to the center barrier. The hissing mother flew above it.
The new whereabouts of the relocated fowl was not immediately known.
Authorities help runaway cows get back home
GRAFTON, N.Y. – Five runaway cows are back home in upstate New York thanks to a quick-thinking emergency dispatcher and a Facebook post.
The cows were spotted May 10 wandering along State Route 2 in Grafton, N.Y., about 20 miles northeast of Albany, state police say.
They say troopers corralled the “feisty” creatures into a yard until a Rensselaer County dispatcher figured out where they belonged.
The dispatcher saw a Facebook post from the family of a town farmer asking if anyone had seen their missing cattle.
Authorities contacted the farmer, and the cows were returned safely.
Ohio teen scoops 3-foot carp from flooded street
Jake Sawyer said this fish had to weigh “a good 40 pounds” when he pulled it from his flooded street. Recent rains in his Ohio neighborhood brought a lot of flooding, and apparently some wildlife, to his street.
NORTH ROYALTON, Ohio – A northern Ohio teenager is reeling in attention for a big catch after he spotted a 3-foot carp swimming in receding floodwaters on his street and scooped it into his arms as his mother caught the scene on video.
North Royalton resident Jake Sawyer, 16, waded through more than ankle-deep water as he stalked the big fish in the dark May 12 and eventually trapped it.
First, he tried to throw a towel over it to stun it. He said when that didn’t work, he tried to push it toward a curb.
“I just slowly put my hand on it, and then once it got comfortable with me, I just kind of bear-hugged it and lifted it up,” he said May 14.
Sawyer said heavy rains that day had caused flash-flooding as high as his mailbox, and he suspects the large grass carp slipped out of a nearby pond as the water rose.
He said he wanted to ensure the fish didn’t become trapped and die in the street, so he carried it back to the pond. He estimates it weighed 40 pounds.
“I think our only option was to put it in the pond,” he said. “I mean, I could’ve put it in my pool, but it would’ve died.”
Iowa man with leukemia holds ‘wake’ for himself
DUBUQUE, Iowa – A longtime Dubuque real estate agent has held a “wake” for himself, following news that he has weeks or even days to live because of a terminal illness.
Don Lochner, 66, invited dozens of friends to a dinner gathering May 13 at a local Italian restaurant, the Telegraph Herald reported. Lochner said despite the grim party theme, his priorities were laughing and spending time with people.
“I’ve never died before,” he said. “I don’t know what the rules are. I don’t think there are any.”
Lochner is a Navy veteran who was deployed during the Vietnam War. He was diagnosed with leukemia in January, which he believes is linked to Agent Orange exposure. He has been receiving treatment at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs hospital.
Lochner said he’s upset about his diagnosis, “but what good does that do you? I’d rather go with the flow, and skip being mad.”
Friends said they’re not surprised by Lochner’s positive attitude.
“That’s pretty much Don,” said Vance DeLire, who met Lochner as the two bought and sold properties.
Linda Budde was supportive of her childhood friend’s approach to the gathering Tuesday.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” she said. “The doctors haven’t given him long to live, but he’s going to enjoy life for as long as he can. He wants to celebrate with his friends now, instead of his friends celebrating his life after he’s gone.”
One car, two drunken driving charges
SOLON, Iowa – Two women face charges for drunken driving after they both drove the same car May 10, police say.
A Johnson County sheriff’s office deputy was dispatched to Iowa Highway 1 near Solon around 5:50 p.m. that day for reports of a Mazda that was speeding and crossing over the center line, police say.
Jennifer S. Volesky, 39, of Mount Vernon was driving erratically along Iowa Highway 1 before stopping at a Dairy Queen, police say. At that point, police say, Marion resident Heather L. Heaton, 28, who had been a passenger in the car, of which she is the registered owner, took the wheel while Volesky moved to the backseat.
The Johnson County deputy originally stopped a second vehicle for speeding, and the driver said he was following Heaton’s car and calling 911 to report the vehicle’s speed and driving behavior, police say.
Before the deputy could make contact with the vehicle, it left the ice cream shop, with Heaton driving. The car was stopped, and all three occupants were intoxicated, police say. Heaton admitted to police to becoming the driver at the Dairy Queen.
Heaton and Volesky were both charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a serious misdemeanor.
Woman cited for drunken driving twice in day
IOWA CITY, Iowa – An Iowa City woman has been accused of drinking and driving twice in the same day.
Madonna E. Ballinger, 49, was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated at 12:30 a.m. and again at 7:45 p.m. May 11, according to Iowa City police.
Iowa City police first responded to Davis Street for reports of a car driving onto the sidewalk and grass, according to police.
Upon arrival, police found Ballinger sitting in a lawn chair near the car. The vehicle’s engine was still hot and the key, which was found in the ignition, was turned to auxiliary, police said. Ballinger later admitted she moved the car from the street to the driveway, police said.
Ballinger had a blood alcohol content of .206 in a preliminary breath test, according to the report. While at Johnson County Jail, Ballinger was found in possession of marijuana, which she admitted was hers, police said.
Ballinger was charged with an aggravated misdemeanor charge for a second offense of operating a vehicle while intoxicated — her first charge was in 2009, according to police — and possession of a controlled substance, a serious misdemeanor.
She was released from jail later that day.
Later that evening, an Iowa City police officer noticed Ballinger parking her vehicle at a liquor store. The officer could tell that Ballinger was intoxicated, according to police. Police said Ballinger had a blood-alcohol content of .177 in a preliminary breath test.
Ballinger was charged with another count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Cops: Man rustled 10-foot rooster statue at store
CHARLEROI, Pa. – Police have charged a southwestern Pennsylvania man with rustling a rooster — a 10-foot fiberglass statue of one, anyway — and were still looking for another man who allegedly helped him.
Brody Nichols, 30, of Fallowfield Township, didn’t immediately return a call May 13 on charges including theft and fleeing police filed after the incident early Saturday in Charleroi.
Police believe Nichols and another man removed the statue from a yard next to Tim’s Secret Treasures, an antique store.
Police gave chase when they saw Nichols and another man had stopped to adjust the bird, which was strapped into the back of a pickup about 3:25 a.m.
Nichols lost police when he turned onto a dirt road, but they recognized who he was by that time. The bird toppled out of the truck and was returned to its owner.
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